Out on the Town: Laverne Cox @ CU Boulder
I was at home, checking my e-mail when I came across the Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) newsletter which stated that Laverne Cox would be speaking at University of Colorado-Boulder (CU-Boulder) in late January. With a couple of clicks, I snatched up my ticket, to the later sold-out event.
As many of you probably know, Laverne Cox is an Emmy-nominated actress known from her role as Sophia in the Netflix series, Orange is the New Black. This role made her the first trans woman of color to have a leading role on a scripted television show. Ms. Cox is also an equal rights advocate and has received numerous accolades for her role as an activist. Laverne Cox’s speech was titled, “Ain’t I a Woman: My Journey to Womanhood” and was co-hosted by the university’s Cultural Events Board and the Distinguished Speakers Board. Unfortunately, audio/video was not allowed at the event.
Let me give some context to the evening, also on campus that day (Jan. 25) was Milo Yiannopoulous’ event, hosted by the CU College Republicans and the CU chapter of Turning Point USA. Milo is a alt-right sensationalist “journalist” who has a following off of his racist, sexist, homo-/transphobic rhetoric. He is banned from Twitter due to his speech. He refers to President Donald Trump as “Daddy.” Sick. A petition was circulated around campus hoping to stop his speech, but the University Chancellor Philip DiStefano decided the event should continue. Really? Milo’s campus speaking tour is title the “Dangerous Faggot Tour”—how awful is that?!?!
Anyway, Laverne’s speech was to occur at the same time, across campus to a sold-out crowded. I arrived to the Mackey Auditorium to long security line. After about 20 minutes, I was finally inside and seated in the packed, beautiful auditorium. Ms. Cox came out adorned in a sleek all-black outfit. She provided the story of her life, growing up in Alabama while struggling with issues of identity amongst those who did not understand or support her. She recalled a 3rd grade teacher calling her mother and telling her “Your son is going to end up in New Orleans wearing a dress if we don't get him into therapy right away.” When she did seek treatment, it was unhelpful as the therapist contemplating giving her testosterone shots in order to “fix her.”
Intertwined in personal narrative were statistics and facts about transgender individuals. For instance, 77% of transgender children are bullied and many have attempted suicide. Laverne also discussed acts of violence—emotional and physical—at occur toward transgender individuals with 2016 have the highest rate of murders of transgender people. She stated, “We have an empathy deficit in this country. We must acknowledge the trauma of others.” She cited many feminist authors and civil rights icons in her speech including bell hooks and Sojourner Truth, as well as Dr. Cornell West quotes. She stated, “Justice is what love looks like in public and trans and gender non-conforming people could use some justice, some love today. Poor and working people could use some justice, some love today. People of color could use some justice, some love today. Women could use some justice, some love today. Undocumented immigrants could use some justice, some love today. People with disabilities could use some justice, some love today.”
Lastly, Laverne took a few questions from the audience (through the use of #LaverneCU) concerning advice for young advocates (“Remain engaged…Stay vocal, stay aware, stay active.”), the best piece of advice she has been given (The Four Agreements), and thoughts on the Women’s March. To the latter point, she discussed how some transgender women did not approve of the pink pussy hats at the marches because not all women have vaginas and vaginas should not be a defining quality for women—highlighting the importance of inclusivity and intersectionality at these events.
Overall, Laverne Cox was phenomenal, as expected. Her speech (and the sold-out audience) provided a sense of community, support, compassion, and love for the LGBTQ community, and hope that our nation will also value those feelings for the community. For those who haven’t watched The Trans List on HBO, I would encourage you to do so and here more of her (and others) story.